When the 2012 regular season ended, the Toronto Raptors' record was identical to the Golden State Warriors', and a coin flip was needed to determine which team would be entitled to the 7th slot in the upcoming draft and which team would be entitled to the 8th slot. The Raptors lost the coin flip, and have exactly a 10% chance to move up into the top 3 when the lottery balls fall on May 30.
While the odds are stacked against them, the Raptors do have a legitimate chance to move up. In their current position, they're looking at prospects like Kendall Marshall, Damian Lillard, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, and, if they're lucky, Harrison Barnes. However, if the team does move up, their approach to the off-season changes dramatically. Do they trade the pick for an up-and-coming youngster that fills a need? Do they take the best player available and figure out how to integrate the pick later? Maybe they draft for need. Bryan Colangelo is very unpredictable when it comes to the draft and as much as we can speculate what route the Raptors would take, chances are we'd be wrong.
But let's assume that the Raptors do move up, and they elect to use their pick while synthesizing choosing the best player available and filling a need. You know, what a smart team would do. Who would they choose at 1, 2, and 3?
The 2012 NBA draft is being touted as one of the greatest in recent memory, even garnering comparisons to the 2003 draft, heralded by Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and a number of other stars. It's deep. The general consensus is that the 2012 draft should produce a fair number of superstars comparable to the greatest drafts in history. And let's not forget solid role players. There are dozens. It's just a matter of finding gems and avoiding fool's gold. Unfortunately it's never quite that easy.
Year after year, there are certain players that look like locks. Bonafide superstars. Maybe they're raw, but they have "potential". Last year, the Utah Jazz selected a player that I wasn't high on at all, preemptively labelling him a bust: Enes Kanter. But executives and scouts were convinced that Kanter had all of the physical tools necessary to excel in the NBA. Unfortunately, he severely lacked experience and fundamentals, and is beginning to look like the bust I expected him to be. I like being right.
With these things in mind, let's take a look at the Raptors' options if they're fortunate enough to win a top-3 pick in the lottery.
Pick One: Anthony Davis, Anthony Davis, Anthony Davis, Anthony Davis
If the Raptors win the lottery, there's only one player that should be on their radar: Anthony Davis. Davis is a coach's wet dream. He's tall, incredibly long, athletic, has guard skills, possesses ridiculously high basketball IQ, and is very coachable. He's very difficult to project at the NBA level, with scouts comparing him to anything from Kevin Garnett to a cross between Chris Bosh and Javale McGee. But one thing is clear. He's going to being elite on the defensive end of the floor no matter what.
The Kentucky Wildcats dominated the NCAA this year, converting many NBA fans into casual college ball fans. Sure, their team was stacked. It looks like four of their players will be selected in the top 20, and three of them in the top 10. But Anthony Davis was the heart and soul of that team, the driving force behind the dominance they were able to achieve.
The NCAA hasn't been measuring PER for long, but Davis' PER is unbelievable nonetheless: 35.71, the highest PER ever seen at the college level.
Davis is such a great prospect that if the Raptors were able to draft him, I would not be surprised to see the rebuild take a step or two back to build around him and Jonas Valanciunas. That would mean that Ed Davis and Amir Johnson would be traded, and depending on the dynamics of the team in a year or two, maybe even Andrea Bargnani. Dwane Casey would love him. Davis is reminiscent of Tyson Chandler in that he rarely leaves his feet on defense, unless he's rushing over for a block from the weak side or grabbing a rebound over two opposing players.
There should be no other choice for the Raptors if they can secure the first pick in the draft. Anthony Davis is a game changing player, and one that is raw enough to be developed into anything an organization could want.
Pick Two: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal
Both of these players will be available at number two, as any team that passes on Anthony Davis deserves to be contracted.
Like Davis, MKG (Kidd-Gilchrist) is difficult to project. He's very strong, tenacious, versatile, and frankly, a blank slate. He's been compared to players like Gerald Wallace, Andre Iguodala, and Josh Smith. All three of those players have two things in common. They're relentless, defensive behemoths, and they're nearly unstoppable at the rim. And like them, MKG should be capable of playing multiple positions effectively. I would not be surprised to see him play some power forward or even shooting guard for a developing team.
Conversely, Beal is a polished scorer with a knack for distributing the ball and being patient. His intensity and drive have been questioned, but he's a deadly shooter that would fit terrifically with the Raptors. He's often compared to Eric Gordon, both for his physical profile and his game. This comparison is warranted. Beal is a very heady player, electing to let his team mates score before he needs to dominate and make big plays. He knows he warrants the occasional double team and attention of his defenders, and makes sound passes to slashers and spot-up shooters. He's more than capable of coexisting with DeMar DeRozan, and should flourish with bigs like Valanciunas and Bargnani.
Pick Three: Leftovers from pick two, Harrison Barnes
I doubt the Raptors are interested in developing another big in an already deep frontcourt, so let's ignore Thomas Robinson and Andre Drummond. Obviously, the Raptors should pick up Beal or MKG at three, however I'd suggest that they take a good, hard look at Harrison Barnes as well.
Barnes has been the subject of a lot of criticism since his freshman year at North Carolina, and deservedly so. He's probably the most polished player in the draft, but he's also an average athlete with little drive. His comparisons? Anything from a 6'8" Joe Johnson to Marvin Williams. His success at the NBA level will be dependent on who coaches him. If he's motivated and stimulated, he could very well be the best player in this draft (outside of Davis). However, if he's allowed to be nonchalant, he's just an overpaid spot-up shooter.
There are some who believe that Barnes is a "what you see is what you get" player, meaning that he has no upside. I disagree. Barnes has added new facets to his game every year and takes his craft very seriously. His skills just don't find their way into games the way you'd expect them to. He's a great ball handler for his size, a good shooter, and an underrated passer. However, there's rarely any cohesion for him, and he disappears for long stretches of time before emerging with one or two big shots late in the game.
High risk, high reward. That is Harrison Barnes.
It's unlikely that the Raptors move up in the draft, but if they do, their future becomes brighter quickly. They're already adding Jonas Valanciunas (whom scouts agree would be the number two pick in this year's draft), and a second top-5 pick with their current roster might allow them to secure a playoff spot next season.
Add that to their $12 million in cap room, and the Raptors should be surprise the rest of the NBA next season. Casey has done a phenomenal job with poor circumstances. I'm eager to see what they're capable of with the impending influx of new talent.
Let's just pray that the lottery gods are kind.